DIY and Digital Archaeology: What are you doing to Participate?


From the teachings of Big Daddy Soul:

“Think about the kind of revolution you want to live and work in.  What do you need to know to start that revolution? Demand that your teachers teach you that.”

Roll up your sleeves.  With archaeology employment declining and the world economy burning down around us it is more important than ever to do everything we can to bring archaeology to the public.  Our organization policy makers in the Society for American Archaeology in the States and more broadly in the World Archaeological Congress work hard and do what they can to raise awareness of the preservation of archaeological sites and the promotion of archaeological education, but they are not enough.

So my question is one inspired by the Young Lions Conspiracy: What are you doing to Participate?  The Young Lions Conspiracy, based in Austin, TX, was formed around an attitude toward life and soul music.  Primarily driven by Tim Kerr, one of the most fantastic musicians and artists that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching writhe on the floor in a tangle of guitar cables and beer cans, the Young Lions was one manifestation of a broader culture of participation and DIY in Austin in the 1990s.  This attitude has stayed with me through the process of undergraduate and graduate school.  My statement of purpose upon entering Berkeley included a variation of bell hooks’ feminist manifest: Archaeology is for everybody.

This seemed even more possible with the growing ease and accessibility of technology and downright necessary with the specter of ubiquitous computing and embedded landscapes looming.  While there are a few interesting projects and “proof of concepts” emerging in conference presentations and collected volumes, many archaeologists seem content to let others visualize and present their work, citing a lack of time or knowledge of the technology involved.  Those of us who are conversant with this technology–which at a basic level is no more difficult or time consuming than creating a power point presentation–need to stretch further and faster than before.  Even some of us who are technologically capable do not share, and sharing should be a reflexive, nearly automatic action for archaeologists.  I was recently inspired by Eric Paulos’ recent Manifesto of Open Disruption and Participation that calls for the creation of “an entirely new form of citizen volunteerism, community involvement and participation” to “effect real political change.”

It is worth learning new forms of communication to preserve the past.  It is important that we as archaeologists do not let others co-opt our unique vision and understanding of the world around us.  We must interfere in the public’s understanding in the past.  Change it.  Surprise, enlighten, destroy when necessary and rebuild a better, stronger, more curious and more passionate interest in what we do.  This is my charge to myself and to other archaeologists and to anyone who wants to join us.

What are you doing to Participate?

(The title is also an upcoming talk I’m giving as part of a seminar at Moesgård Museum in Denmark)

Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

11 thoughts on “DIY and Digital Archaeology: What are you doing to Participate?”

  1. I am putting nearly 20 years research straight on the web, written so that most people can understand it, and find it, free of charge, I don’t mind if academics use it, but I cannot afford to pay them for their approval.

    There is a tendency, on the academic side of our subject, to develop an exclusive and unnecessarily complex vocabulary, ironically, often to disguise the simplicity of the underling ideas. If our work becomes so abstract that we can no longer express it in terms our fellow citizens can comprehend, and, more importantly, relate to, we shall loose the support of society.

    (the credit crunch got my contract 7 months ago)

  2. “There is a tendency, on the academic side of our subject, to develop an exclusive and unnecessarily complex vocabulary, ironically, often to disguise the simplicity of the underlining ideas.”

    Geoff Carter, I totally agree.
    1. Use a different language, vocabulary. (Thinking about Germany here)
    2. Stop dumping knowledge into old fashion archives mainly, they are growing but traditional publishing allows only tidbits for the public and academics far away. Imagine in hundred years. There are no more academics who could go through. The longer we will do this, the more it will become waste. Nobody will have the time to check the data.
    3. Make the findings and conclusions visible, though if they are controversial. Why should be a written thesis better than shown in a 3-D model?
    4. Get used to publish online, don’t wait for old media to write once about a digging campaign, maybe.

  3. 5. Easy done at the moment like: Add basic archaeology related information to websites like Wikipedia: cities, regions, set links to your sites.
    It is very time consuming to find the regional sciences sites, almoust difficult if you looking in a different language web environment. We are by far not connected yet.

  4. Hi Allan! I’m a big fan of Mission Mission, thank you for the comment. I really like Poison 13 and Wine is Red Poison is Blue has most of the essentials on it. The Lord High Fixers were also amazing, but didn’t translate quite as well to records, unfortunately. The Now Time Delegation’s Watch for Today is essential.

    Geoff – I completely agree about using obfuscatory vocabulary and try to keep things on this more understandable side. I have a lot of friends in the UK without work and it’s getting worse in the States. Good luck & thanks for making all of your research available.

    Jens-Olaf – you know I always enjoy your archaeology photos, thanks for your comments. Alternative methods of publishing and making data available are coming, but I still worry about things like the death of many hypertext theses and virtual models that nobody can run anymore. The key may be to spread the data out through many formats and venues, both very high tech and lowest common denominator.

    Surin2sayan – that’s absolutely true. We have a lot of the broader concepts covered, but could use more localization of archaeological data, tied to communities and neighborhoods.

    Thanks to all for the insights–in a way I am preaching to the converted in that you are already participating and it may be unfair to ask even more of you. But I will anyway. :)

  5. Thanks for prompting the discussion; I would like to make one more point.
    There exists an ‘academic firewall’, those behind it have free access to information, for those outside access depends on the ability to pay.
    Also, as my research is outside the firewall, it is not real, valid, and in many ways does not exist, and it cannot be referred to.

    The problem will arise for the firewall if I start publishing significant things on the wrong side.
    For example, I think I have the evidence for a primary timber phase of Hadrian’s Wall – what will be the reaction when I publish this unheralded onto the internet?

  6. Geoff, good point. Last time I’ve discussed with my hometown archaeolgists in Germany: There is even still a firewall between old generation historians and archaeologists. You always see this when a regional history is published. The only historians are still publishing outdated sources. Especially when it comes to times with few remaining documents. Here 800-1500. Interdisciplinary working is still not the rule. But physical science will be even more envolved. Latest a research about a medieval city by just “bodenwissenschaftlichen” (soil) methods.

  7. And another idea I cannot do at the moment. A virtuel model of the city Osnabrück. Not as usual a take on one century: Medieval versus modern times. Maybe 1300. But visualizing the change, even doing this within a 50 years period, since there are data from the last 30 years of digging. So one can see the city dynamics. After fire, after restructuring, after an economical boost, after war or even a period with less changes.

  8. Many sites are poorly understood, and 3-dimensional modelling is often simply extending this lack of knowledge into an extra dimension. I not sure about German Medieval towns, but, for example, many of the existing British prehistoric models feature cartoon one-size-fits-all roundhouses, and lack any decent detail or texture, to the point that a good artistic reconstruction would have been better.

    I was doing CAD reconstructions for my incredulous colleagues on a ‘386 ’in 1990, but realised that sticking a cone on top of a cylinder so I could view it from any angle did not advance understanding one bit. I spent the last 19 years trying to understand the archaeological features so that more meaningful things can be done with CAD modelling.

    You can fairly simply build full 3d rotating models of standing structures like buildings from photogrammetry, but whether the client, or future generations, will be able to use or view it, is an different question.

    We could end up expressing our ignorance in token 3-dimensional models, adding some apparent technical credibility, but which add nothing to our understanding and serve only to disguise deeper underling problems of interpretation.

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